Friday Twitter Tips Volume 5: This Week's #PubTips Theme - One Submission at a Time

Friday Twitter Tips 2/14

Friday Twitter Tips 2/7

Friday Twitter Tips 1/31

Friday Twitter Tips 1/24

Friday Twitter Tips Vol. 4 - #PubTips from Agents and Editors

  Welcome to the fourth installment of Friday Twitter Tips where my sympathy for agents and editors grows ever more acute. Y'all see it all, over and over and over again. On behalf of every author out there, I'm sorry.

Personal story time: in fifth grade, Mrs. Starnes gave our class a worksheet, told us to read it through then complete the worksheet. Of course, I started answering the questions right away. When I got to the last question, it said to only answer one or two questions. Mrs. Starnes, looking very smug at the front of the room, didn't even have to spell out the moral of the lesson. Based on what I read from agents on Twitter, very few writers had their own Mrs. Starnes.
Read the agent's submission and query guidelines! They're all different!

Who doesn't want writing advice from a Dalek?

Query Etiquitte

Always good advice from Elmore Leonard:

Absolutely the way to get an agent to like you:

Hugh Howie, self-described self-publishing success outlier, makes the case for self-publishing, using numbers.

On the other hand, if you're self-publishing to get into traditional?

Know your genre.

Makes me glad I don't write YA.

Moral of this tweet: Revisions may seem evil, but they're just misunderstood. Like Draco Malfoy.

Moral of this tweet: don't be easy to mock. Oh, and get a friend to read your query.

More editing tips. From editors!



Previous Editions of Friday Twitter Tips

Friday Twitter Tips 2/7

Friday Twitter Tips 1/31

Friday Twitter Tips 1/24

Friday Twitter Tips - Roundup of Literary #PubTips from Agents and Editors


The same goes for pitching at conferences. You should only pitch completed work.

And this is why:

Here she means offer from another agent or publisher:

Conference season is coming up. Read this:



Not entirely sure where to slot this advice, so it's going here:

This tip is more of a tip on professionalism than anything:


Friday Twitter Tips 1/31

Friday Twitter Tips 1/24

Friday Twitter Tips: Round-up of #Pubtips from Agents and Editors

All About Queries

Lots of GRAMMAR GURUS on Twitter. Still, sometimes we need reminding.

But, sometimes it's hard! (See what I did there?)

Oops! She inadvertently spoiled the first Game of Thrones book, here.

Rant alert. I imagine getting the same questions/problems from queriers over and over is frustrating.

A very insidery look at book PR.

Ha! This.

This is depressing.

#PubTip Tweet of the Week

Previous Friday Twitter Tips:

#PubTips for January 22

[polldaddy poll=7761769]

Reading Hitchcock - Psycho by Robert Bloch


The problem with reading a book after seeing a movie is constantly comparing the visual medium with the written. In the case of Psycho, the movie is so ingrained in the pop culture consciousness generally, and my mind specifically, it was impossible to read Bloch's psychological mystery fresh. And that's a shame, because it's a very good book with a nice twist. Hitchcock isn't known for faithful adaptations of source material but with Psycho, he stayed true to the book. That's probably because it's a damn near perfect psychological horror novel so well-written I can easily imagine the shock readers felt in 1959, when Psycho was published, when they discovered who the killer really was. As perfect as the movie is, as much as I loved the shock of the movie twist, I'm disappointed I didn't read the book first. For me, there is nothing better than a book that takes me by surprise. Fifty-five years on, with the movie as what people think of when you say "Psycho," and with the shower scene an iconic horror movie moment, there was no way to capture the happy astonishment you feel when a well-crafted story takes an unexpected turn.

Still, Psycho is well worth reading. The characters have a depth not shown in the movie and if you're a writer, you're bound to learn something reading Bloch's tight prose.

Friday Twitter Tips - Roundup of #pubtips from agents and editors

I love following agents and editors on Twitter. It gives such a great insight into what they like, dislike and what is trending in the publishing world. Plus, some of them are interesting in their own right. When they tweet about the weather, opera, their children, cats, happy hours, well, it reminds us they are human and not robots reading and rejecting our manuscripts just because they can. I see so many good #pubtips on a daily basis. So, as a public service to my fellow authors, and as a way to keep the ones I like best easily accessible on my blog, I'm rounding up my favorites. My idea is for this to be a weekly post. Considering how sporadic my posting as been, and my general inability to follow-up with my Grand Blogging Ideas, I understand if you are skeptical of my ability to do this. At the very least, you'll get this one post, and that ain't nothing.

This should be a no-brainer to writers. That someone had to tweet this advice makes me sad.

I especially love agents who do 10 queries in 10 tweets, or a similar series. You get lots of great tips and advice about what turns agents off. Margaret Bail has been doing 10 queries in 10 tweets consistently for a while now. Great info.


I resolve.


The prefect New Year's resolution. It hits on every aspect of my life.

Write more.

In my profession, I need to focus on writing with determination. Even on days when I don't want to. Even when I think what I'm writing is crap. Even when it won't be seen by another person. The only way to get better is to practice. Plus, writing makes me happy.

Eat less.

Even though I don't feel like I over eat, I somehow manage to gain ten pounds (or more) in a year. I know what I need to do, how to eat healthy, I just don't do it. This year, I am going to focus on eating smaller meals more often, and eating clean. I know better than to set an exercise goal in stone. I'll just ignore it. But, I can't ignore eating.

Read more widely.

I read 102 books in 2013, an accomplishment I'm happy with if not entirely proud of. I liked many of the books I read and even loved a few. But, overall I was reading less for enjoyment or enlightenment or education than for speed and numbers. Call me pretentious, or a book snob if you like, but I don't read for entertainment, or at least not primarily. Entertainment is a byproduct, not the goal.  I enjoy books best when I have learned something or felt something. With too many of the books I read this year, I learned and felt nothing. I was entertained, for sure, and that was fun and fine, but less than satisfying. In 2014, instead of setting a number goal, though arbitrarily I'd like to read one book a week, I want to read more widely. Books from other countries and cultures, specifically. More non-fiction and classics. I want books that will make me feel intensely - love, hate, anger, happiness, horror, astonishment, disgust. I want to read books that will stay with me days and weeks and years later. You know what? I think this goal will be more difficult than 100 books in a year.

Some of you may be wondering why I didn't set the goal of being published. Of course that's a goal, but unlike these three whose attainment I control, so much of whether or not I'm published is out of my hands. I'll do whatever I can do make it happen, but the achievement of that goal doesn't rely solely on me or my actions. However, I firmly believe I will sign a publishing contract this year.

Do you set New Year's resolutions? If so, what are they?

On Writing - Starting from scratch

It's been a while since I've started a story from scratch. STILLWATER was a re-write of a NaNo novel from four years ago. PALO DURO was the completion of a novel I started in 2008. The sequel to STILLWATER I started last summer felt more like a continuation of the novel than a story from whole cloth.  (Duh, Melissa: it was a sequel.) Since November 1, I've been trying and failing to settle on a story. Doubts are starting to creep in. Will I ever be able to finish another MS? Is that it for me and creativity? Are those two MS as good as it's going to get? No. Of course not. But, the doubts, they've been a creeping lately. This morning, I finally figured out why.

My first drafts are horrible.

Maybe everyone's first drafts are horrible, but mine sure seem to be almost unreadable. There's lots of standing, staring, looking and moving. Tons of dialogue and very little narrative. True characterization or voice doesn't tend to kick in until about halfway through. I jump around, write scenes as I think of them, then inevitably have to completely re-work the scene or delete it all together. My writing mentor, Mark, jokes that I write 2 1/2 novels worth of prose before I settle on the story. He's right and it sucks. But, I can't seem to write any other way.

I know I will edit out all of the garbage, tighten it up and make it better. I know I should allow myself to write badly. But, it's hard to do that. Well, it's easy to write badly, that's become painfully obvious these past two months. It's hard to not worry myself to death about it. It's hard to make myself write in the beginning of a story, when the story hasn't solidified, the voice is weak and indistinct, when the flow just isn't there.  I have to force myself to write, to trust it will all come together, like it has before.

Until then, I cling to the encouragement of my friends and family, like this remark from my husband after reading John Grisham's new novel:

"It's not any better than yours. Wait. That didn't come out right."

"Do you mean, mine was a good as Grisham's?"

"Yes," he said, with a sigh of relief.

Good enough. I'll take it.

Book Review - Counting by 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan


I am a contrarian. Not about life. I'm not going to say the glass is half full. There is water in it. You're thirsty. Drink and stop analyzing.

I am a contrarian when it comes to books.

I'm turned off by quirk.

By lack of punctuation.

By single sentence paragraphs.

By substituting writing style for characterization.

Tell the story. Don't let the writing get in the way. Or the voice.

Counting by 7s (★★★) is a run-of-the-mill YA story. You know how it will end. Nothing will shock you. Though you will get choked up.

Unless you have a heart of stone.

The voice is quirky, though with correct punctuation.

Single sentence paragraphs abound.

If you like that kind of stuff, then this book is for you.

If you don't, you can read it to pad your yearly reading goal. It's a fast read.

Because of all those single sentence paragraphs.

You won't regret reading it. You may even love it.

You definitely won't forget it.

Book Review - Longbourn by Jo Baker


If ever there is a novel that suffers from false advertising, it's Longbourn. Promoted as Pride and Prejudice meets Downton Abbey, Longbourn has none of the wit of P&P nor the soap opera fun of Downton Abbey. I wondered about halfway through the novel why Baker even bothered to frame her novel around Austen's classic. Then I rolled my eyes at such a stupid, rhetorical thought. She placed her servants at Longbourn because Austen inspired fiction is a lucrative market. Longbourn, as good as it is, wouldn't have received half the press it did if it was a standalone novel about servants in Regency England. And, that's a shame, because Longbourn (★★★) is a good novel. Let's get the Pride and Prejudice connection out of the way: with the exception of one scene with Elizabeth, Darcy and Sarah, Baker's fictional housemaid, Baker is true to Austen's characters for the most part. Of course, Wickham is the bad guy, made even worse at Baker's fingertips. However, making these characters ones we know and love distracts from the story she is telling, instead of illuminating it or making it more interesting. There isn't enough of our beloved characters to make us happy and what there is makes us like them less. Though, if pushed, I suppose I prefer Baker's vague characterizations to other fiction which paints their personalities outside of Austen's lines.

But, to the story. Baker illustrates well the day-to-day grind of servants, from the backbreaking need to haul water, to the hand destroying work of laundry day, to the stomach churning chore of dumping chamber pots. Where Longbourn excels, though, is how disheartening working for others could be when you want more but have no way to achieve it, how trapped people of the lower classes were in their lot in life. Unlike Carson and Mrs. Hughes in Downton Abbey, these are not servants who take pride in their place in society. They are conscientious, do excellent work and do not shirk from responsibility but, Sarah especially, long to be free of other people's demands.  At times, Baker's prose strives a little too hard to be literary, but I appreciate her style nonetheless. She doesn't feel the need to spell everything out, but instead trusts her readers are intelligent enough to figure things out.

The Good Wife and The Mentalist - One show hitting its stride, the other changing its stride

the mentalist promo

good wife 100 Last year, amid the disastrous Kalinda/Nick storyline, I dinged The Good Wife for sucking. Not long after, due to my wonderfully, erudite post, they jettisoned that storyline and went back to what they do best, camouflaging a soap opera as a case of the week procedural. Since the second half of season four and into the first half of season five, which last night ended its 2013 run with it's 100th episode, The Good Wife has been on fire, creatively, dramatically, emotionally, hilariously and consistently. (Five adverbs in a row. YES!)

Even at its worst, which I will always contend the Kalinda/Nick storyline was, The Good Wife is the best hour-long drama on network television. If The Good Wife were on AMC, HBO, FX or some other cable network, I think it would be considered the best by most critics. Say what you will about the long form storytelling brilliance of The Wire, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Mad Men, The Good Wife is better because not only do Robert and Michelle King know how to tell a long form story, they also brilliantly incorporate a case of the week into EACH episode. They have mastered the procedural and the novelization of their world at the same time. It is an epic feat to create the best drama on television within the commercial and FCC constraints the Kings work under.

At the end of season four, the Kings basically blew up their show. They carved Alicia and Carey out of Lockhart/Gardner, and left Kalinda, Will and Diane to nurse hurt feelings and pride. This season, the fallout has been fun to watch, with both L/G and F/A getting the best of each other. They are pretty evenly matched adversaries, much to Will and Diane's surprise. Alicia is ruthless, cunning and determined to win. My money is on Alicia, not only because it is The Good Wife, but also because she has experience in how to pick herself up from emotional devastation and triumph. Will may seem like he's in control, but he's floundering and if he's not careful, his ambition and drive will destroy Lockhart/Gardner.

Two quibbles, though: There still is not enough Kalinda. I do not understand her loyalty to Will and, as a huge fan of the Alicia/Kalinda friendship, I wish Kalinda had gone with F/A. I didn't realize until early this season she didn't even know Alicia was leaving with Cary. I wonder if she'd known that if she would have left anyway, despite lower pay. The second quibble: I don't want the entire season to be about L/G and F/A fighting each other. I'm already a little weary of the constant gamesmanship. It's a great dramatic well of tension that will be quickly dried up if they keep tapping it.

the mentalist blue

After five seasons and change, The Mentalist blew up its formula, but good last week. I was excited and anxious to see what the new version of The Mentalist had to offer. I have to say, My Blue Heaven lived up to my expectations. The dichotomy of Jane being a tortured vigilante for a handful of episodes each season while being glib the other episodes was always jarring. Now, Jane is out from under the cloud and we can see the lighter side of him all the time, as well as no longer dour Lisbon. This was a transition episode in the best sense of the word. I don't think Jane read anyone once. I wonder if his mentalist capabilities are rusty? That would be interesting to see. The most refreshing part of the episode was that Jane was bested, twice. Once by a woman, Kim Fisher, who manipulated him into returning to the states. The other time by Abbot, the stern FBI agent who refused to cower to Jane's demands. Seeing the shock on Jane's face, which he quickly masked, was absolutely brilliant. I can't wait to see this version of Jane play out, hopefully for many seasons to come.

Red John is dead. Long live The Mentalist.

the mentalist tunneyWell, thank God that's over. When I learned the first six episodes of season six would deal exclusively with resolving the Red John storyline, I assumed I would be posting weekly episode recaps. Then, the episodes aired and I found I had nothing to say. Kirkland was on his own vigilante quest? Shrug. Red John has a tattoo of three dots on his left shoulder? A pretty stupid tattoo for a serial killer who is supposed to be extremely intelligent. The Blake Association? Sounds like a homeowner's association. Bertram is Red John? I'm supposed to believe Michael Gaston has the charisma to inspire such rapturous, love-like devotion of Lorelei, Rebecca and all the other acolytes who have done Red John's bidding for so many years?

Turns out, no, I'm not. The Mentalist couldn't resolve the storyline without one last feint, without trying desperately to illustrate Red John's superior planning and intelligence. Sheriff Macalister is Red John. A character who resonated with absolutely no one, ever.

You know what? I'm not going to pick apart this resolution. Other people are doing it for me. I'm just thrilled The Mentalist is no longer saddled with overarching storyline. The original idea was good, great even. But, the execution was sloppy because it dragged on for too many years and probably because Heller didn't have a clear idea who Red John was until a couple of years ago. Maybe if the Big Bad had been fully formed, the overarching story would have been, too.

But, it wasn't and now it's over. Good riddance. The Mentalist becomes what it should have been after the end of season three - a straight up crime procedural. CBS does these shows very well so there is no reason why The Mentalist shouldn't keep chugging along for a few more seasons. As a long-time, dedicated fan, one who has flirted with abandoning the show but has stuck around despite major issues, I hope Heller and Company take this reboot - which is exactly what this is though no one has said the word - and make the show better. To do that, they need to do one thing, and one thing only:

Make the law enforcement professionals competent.

It has always been my biggest complaint that Lisbon, Cho and company couldn't investigate their way out of a paper bag. They went through the motions and did the legwork, but it was always Jane who "solved" the crime. I get it; the show is called the mentalist. But, sometimes I wondered why the others were there at all. It seemed Lisbon's sole purpose was to apologize for Jane's actions, threaten him with consequences, but still let him do whatever he wanted. This was perfectly illustrated in "Red John" when she half-heartedly tried to talk Jane out of meeting Red John, gave Jane her gun(!), then gave Jane her car. Jane fulfilled his vow to kill Red John. Lisbon rolled over and failed to keep her promise of stopping Jane. The worst part was she didn't even try. It is very nearly a complete betrayal of the character. I wonder how they will redeem her, or if they will brush Lisbon's failure under the rug and instead focus on Jane's new life. For Lisbon, her failure to stop Jane should have very nearly the same effect on her psyche as Jane's causing his family's death did on his. But, I'm guessing it won't. Why? Two reasons. One, this show struggles when it doesn't focus on Jane. Two, it is easier to explain it away with feelings. The romantic in me would dig a good love story. The part of me that wants Lisbon to be a strong, independent female character would be pretty pissed.

I hope the new iteration of The Mentalist has a better balance of competence. I hope they give Lisbon the backbone they imply she has. I hope it takes longer than one episode for them to pull the team back together. I hope Jane feels the consequences of killing MacAlister for longer than one episode. I hope the new people they bring in aren't just Ribsby and Van Pelt clones. I hope they expand the world beyond CBI and give the characters a life, friends and family outside of work. I hope Heller has talked with Robert and Michelle King, the creators and showrunners of The Good Wife, on how to write a procedural with rich characters and a rich world that is just as interesting outside of the case of the week as it is inside.

Writing ADD or, Melissa's complete lack of focus

normal_tech_typewriterkeys This month for NaNo, I intended to branch out, to write short stories in different voices, experimenting with tense, POV, stream of consciousness. I was going to rock it! What have I done?


Granted, writing 30 different stories in 30 days was a ridiculous goal, even for me who loves ridiculous, barely achievable goals. I should have known better since these days, I can’t even finish a blog post.

I’m forcing myself to finish this post instead of vacuuming the stairs. That’s how bad it has gotten. I’d rather vacuum dog hair off the stairs than write.

I had my version of a panic attack about this last night before I went to bed. What if I’m done? What if I have no more good ideas? What if I can’t ever start or finish another book? I almost got up right then to go write. Instead, I rolled over and went to sleep. See, my version of a panic attack is thinking about it, worrying a little, deciding I can think about it tomorrow, then sleeping.

Now, here I am, barely restraining myself from vacuuming.

I hate housework.

Housework over writing has got to be rock bottom.

When my husband asked me what was on my agenda today (isn’t he sweet to pretend I have anything resembling a professional agenda? I’m still in my pajamas) the first thing I said was, “the floors.” Then I realized how pathetic that sounded (though not as bad as yesterday when my big accomplishments were “cleaning the ovens and polishing the stainless steel"), I said, “A new story. I have to settle on one. I need a single focus, something I can…”

“Obsess over?”


He knows me so well. And, he still loves me. He's a keeper for sure.

So, today, while I’m vacuuming the dog hair off the stairs, I’m going to focus on the first line of my new story. I’m going to hone it in my mind until it is polished to a bright shine. It has to be good enough to inspire me to write the second line, then the third, then the fourth. I think if I can get to the fourth line, I’ll be on my way. But first, the opening line. Maybe,

Vacuuming dog hair off the stairs always settled Melissa’s nerves.

The Walking Dead - It isn’t enough to survive, you need to live.

TV Show_The Walking Dead_436560

TV Show_The Walking Dead_436560I am a casual fan of The Walking Dead. I can take it or leave it most Sundays, preferring the real world drama and wonderful characterizations of The Good Wife. But, my boys watch it so, in an effort have a shared entertainment experience, I sat through two hours of a depressing vision of what humanity looks like when the world ends. I’ve got news for you: the worst part isn’t the zombies. Turn that frown upside down I’ve never seen a more downtrodden bunch of people in my life. Okay, sure. They’re surrounded by zombies and it is a struggle to survive. But, these people never smile. Ever.  Where are the moments of grace? Of hope? Of touch football or sandlot baseball? Where is the wise-ass character who finds the gallows humor in it all? They are so busy surviving, they’ve forgotten how to live. When there is nothing to live for but starvation, disease and fighting zombies, why even bother?

If I survive an apocalypse, I can tell you right now: I’m having sex “Fighting gives you a terrible cockstand.” Jamie Fraser, Outlander

You wouldn’t believe the search results Google returned when I tried to find the clinical name for Jamie Fraser’s post-battle boner. A friend suggested I call it “post traumatic sex syndrome” which is a nice, technical term, but I think I like post-battle boner. Is being horny after fighting/killing/surviving a fictional construct? Maybe, lord knows it is used enough to show manly strength. Just look to the end of Breaking Bad’s pilot episode. Skyler’s “Is that you?” line gave a pretty big indication to Walt’s virility after killing two drug dealers and barely escaping death himself. (Spoiler alert.)

So, assuming the post-battle boner is a fictional construct (which I don’t believe), why aren’t the people in The Walking Dead having sex? Besides the fact they’ve all forgotten how to have fun. Are they too afraid of bringing children into the world? Maybe, but procreation is human nature. After seeing death and despair on a daily basis, I would think finding a human connection would be the key to retaining your sanity, to reminding yourself there is something in the world worth living for. That the characters seem to eschew something so basic, so primal, especially when their lives have been reduced to the primal urge to survive, undermines what little reality a show about zombies has been able to illustrate. If the world ends, people aren’t going to stop having sex. They’re probably going to have more sex, if for no other reason than to remind them they are alive. But, the characters on The Walking Dead seem to go out of their way to eschew sex, or ignore its existence altogether. The apocalypse have turned them all into eunuchs. Even the couple who gets busy on a regular basis have turned gloomy, staring at each other as if it is the last time they will ever see each other instead of embracing the happiness they’ve found. I cannot think of a more depressing existence than one completely lacking in a physical or emotional connection.

Can someone please go on a run for clothes? I guess in lieu of being realistic when it comes to natural sexual urges, the powers in charge of The Walking Dead have decided to illustrate their dedication to reality with greasy hair and dirty, threadbare clothes. Gross hair and horrible hairstyles are a bugbear of mine, no matter the tv show or movie, but I can at least understand why The Walking Dead survivors have greasy, long hair. I don’t like it, but I get it. The clothes thing? That’s just stupid. Think of all the Wal-Marts in south Georgia, full of clothes. Clean clothes. Colorful clothes. Clothes without holes. Clothes without sweat stains. Considering the low number of human survivors, clothes is the one thing that they should have in abundance. So, why do they wear the same thing over and over? And, why do they always choose neutral colors? All the better to hide the zombie gore on, maybe? A visual trick of the costume designer to show that Things Are Bad? Newsflash: we get it. Rick did change his shirt this year but guess what? It’s frayed and full of holes. If I were a survivor and went on the run for medicine with Rick and Carol, after raiding the medicine cabinets and bedside tables, I would have raided the closet. Changed my bra and underwear. Used a toothbrush. Stolen toiletries. In fact, just writing about how nasty these people are makes me want to take a shower.

There’s more than one way to skin a cat But, apparently, there’s only three ways to kill a zombie: a bullet to the head, a knife or ax to the head, or chopping off the head. Some viewers argue there isn’t enough zombie time in TWD. I say there is too much. I’m tired of seeing zombies killed. Why? Because it’s boring.  Old. Trite. Been there done that. I’ve been so desensitized to it I’m not even grossed out anymore.

Isn’t it time they strive for more? I suppose the destruction of the CDC at the end of season one was supposed to end the idea these people would ever have the hope or the agency to solve the problem of the zombie apocalypse and put the focus solely on survival. But, taking that possibility off the table has measurably weakened the show. It has made it one note. There is no hope in their survival, no chance to change things, to bring on a better life. I suppose that’s good as a formula for a long-term, money-making drama for AMC. But, it has turned The Walking Dead into the zombie apocalypse version of a police procedural. The writers, directors and show runners have a formula for every episode - there is a problem, a run outside the prison is made, zombies are killed, objective achieved, return to the prison.  New characters are inevitably eaten by zombies. Main characters survive. Rick feels guilty because apparently his inflated sense of self-importance and responsibility will be the last things to die on The Walking Dead. Then, it all happens again next week.


Art imitates life. For the past half-decade or more, entertainment has reflected the social and economic upheaval of the recession and the ideological division rotting at the center of our society. From the white man’s entitlement of Walter White, to the end of the world doomsday of The Walking Dead, to the idea a superhero - a clear stand-in for God - will swoop in and save the day, we have been told over and over again that we have no agency. That our future is out of our hands. That there is no hope, this is just the way it is. Is it any wonder we believe it?

But, even during the Depression, when movie theaters were filled with gangster movies and over the top melodramas, with bread lines and fat cat businessmen taking advantage of the poor, there was a slice of entertainment hell-bent on making us forget our troubles, helping people who had little money and hope to escape for 90 minutes in a world where Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers danced gracefully, where Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn, Myrna Loy and William Powell and James Stewart and Jean Arthur exchanged witty, rapid fire dialogue and fell in love. Sometimes, these movies had bigger points to make, but oftentimes their point was to make people feel better about the world they lived in. To make them believe there was a better future on the horizon. And, you know what? There was. It took a while to get there, and we will always vacillate between good and bad times. But, I fear as a nation, we’ve lost our belief that good times are around the corner.

The entertainment industry is in a unique position of influence. They can merely reflect the times or they can nudge us to a better tomorrow. I'm tired of being told all is lost. That there is no hope. And, if someone says "It is what it is" one more time, I'm going to pull out my sword and go all Michonne on their defeatist ass. It’s time the entertainment industry gives their characters something to live for, and its viewers someone to root for.

Reading Hitchcock - Marnie by Winston Graham


Reading Hitchcock is an occasional series where I review the source material of Alfred HItchcock's movies.The Sixties are in interesting decade for Hitchcock. He started the decade strong, with Psycho and The Birds, and had a rough end with Topaz and Torn Curtain. Smack in the middle is Marnie, a movie that is thought of more fondly now than it was when it was released in 1964, though I don't know why. I don't remember much about Marnie the movie, only that I thought it was a ballsy career move for James Bond to play a rapist. Turns out, that was the scene that made Hitchcock want to adapt the book.

from Wikipedia:

Evan Hunter, who had written the screenplay for The Birds, developed Marnie with Hitchcock, and wrote several drafts. Hunter was unhappy with the rape scene in the original novel as he felt the audience would lose sympathy for the male lead. The director, however, was enthusiastic about the scene, describing to Hunter how he intended to film it.

"Hitch held up his hands the way directors do when they're framing a shot. Palms out, fingers together, thumbs extended and touching to form a perfect square. Moving his hands toward my face, like a camera coming in for a close shot, he said, "Evan, when he sticks it in her, I want that camera right on her face".[3]"

Hunter wrote a draft containing the rape scene but also wrote an additional, substitute sequence, which he pleaded with Hitchcock to use instead. Hunter was dismissed from the project on 1 May 1963.[4] His replacement, Jay Presson Allen, later told him that "you just got bothered by the scene that was his reason for making the movie. You just wrote your ticket back to New York."[3][5] Just as Hunter had been unaware of Stefano's earlier work on Marnie, Presson Allen was not informed that she was the third writer to work on the adaptation.[6]

I imagine Winston Graham had a major headdesk moment when he saw what Hitchcock did to his book. Though, maybe he just cashed the check and didn't care.  But, Hitchcock wasn't known for faithful adaptations, but by using source material as inspiration. Sometimes, the result was good (The 39 Steps, The Lodger), sometimes it wasn't so good. His adaptation of Marnie is the latter.

Marnie in the movie is sexually frigid due to being molested as a child. Oh, and she steals stuff. Hitch focused on the sexual dysfunction when in the book, it is but one aspect of a very complicated character. Marnie on the page is a rich, complex character who finds herself in a situation she cannot control and, as a result, starts to unravel. What's much more interesting than her inability to get close to men sexually is her inability to get close to anyone, male or female, to form any sort of close bonds with humanity. While I had a problem with a couple of the events in the novel* -  the twisted logic Mark used to find her and that Marnie wouldn't extricate herself from the situation by doing what she does best, running - the book is an interesting character study of a woman who was unknowingly molded by a mother who was flat-out crazy but seemed normal. The ending was a little heartbreaking but perfect based on the tone of the book. Good all the way around, but the writing style seemed a little dated. It's a "I doubt this would get published now" book.

* Of course, the rape scene bothered me, especially when Mark blamed Marnie for it after. I rolled my eyes at his justification for Marnie seeing a psychologist being that is just isn't normal for a woman to not want to have sex with someone who loves her. But, the book was written in the late fifties, check your modern sensibilities at the door and all. I'd like to be able to say those attitudes (no such thing as marital rape and not understanding an aversion to sex) are obsolete, but yeah. Not enough has changed.

Previous Reading Hitchcock Posts:

Suspicion / Before the Fact by Francis Iles

Reading Hitchcock: Before the Fact by Francis Iles - "A terrible book with a good ending, a good movie with a terrible ending."


Hitchcock put a light bulb in the milk to make it glow. Suspicion (1941) is Hitchcock's worst movie.

That's a bold statement about a movie nominated for Best picture, won Joan Fontaine an Oscar for her portrayal of Lina Aysgarth and allowed Cary Grant to play more than just a romantic lead for 95% of its run time. Grant carrying the glowing glass of milk up the stairs to an ill Lina is a standout among the plethora of Hitchcock's enduring images. Still, the movie drops to the bottom of my list because the ending is a slap in the face to all that had gone before.  All of the tension Hitchcock masterfully built, all of the lurking evil Grant brilliantly played was ruined by the glaringly bad ending Hitchcock was forced by the studio to tack on for fear of ruining Grant's "heroic" Image with the public.


beforeBefore the Fact (★★★), the 1932 psychological thriller Suspicion is based on, has great intentions and almost delivers. From the very first line, the reader knows who the murderer is,  the question becomes who will he kill and will he get away with it? Iles tells the story from the victim's point of view - another unique choice - but any sympathy you might feel for Lina Aysgarth has evaporated by the end of the novel. She is a born victim who only half-heartedly tries to get out of her situation before using tortured logic to absolve Johnnie of past and future crimes. Lina isn't sympathetic, merely pathetic, and as I neared the end, I was openly rooting for Johnnie to kill her already.  The ending, famously different from Hitchcock's adaptation, was bold and would have been unsettling and affecting if the reader had been able to root for or sympathize with Lina even a little. I admire Iles for committing to it, but wish the execution of the characterization of Lina had been stronger so I would have cared what happened to the character.

Classics Club Spin - The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow


I did not like this book. I did not finish this book.

I will never pick this book up again.

Besides not having enough story to keep me interested past page 60, Bellow describes every character in detail. In so much detail my mental snapshots were muddy, confusing and seemingly contradictory. These complex descriptions bogged down the narrative - what little narrative there was. So, I won't be checking this book off my 1001 Books list. I suppose it's in good company, with Moby Dick and Middlemarch.

In the good news department, I did learn something from what little I read:

In writing, less is more.

On Writing - "The End" or, The Best Review I'll Ever Receive

"The end." "What?"

"The end. I just finished. It was excellent. I really liked it."

My husband isn't a huge reader. Sometimes, he will spend the weekend with his nose in a Harlan Coben thriller he picked up at the airport, but the combination of reading business reports for a living and his increasingly short attention span for entertainment means fewer and fewer books capture his curiosity.  So, I've never pushed him to read my work.  But, I've said since I finished STILLWATER he can read it whenever he wants and, of everything I've written, it's the one story that would be in his reading wheelhouse. "If you don't like this, you won't like anything I write."

Last week, he asked me to send him the MS so he could read it on the plane home from Delaware. That night, when he told me he was 92 pages in and liked it a lot, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.  Before you ask, I'll say it: my husband isn't the type who would continue to read it if he didn't like it. Nor would he tell me it was good if he didn't think it was. That was part of my reason for not pushing him to read it. I didn't want to put him in the position to tell me he didn't like it. I think that would have been tougher on him to say than on me to hear. Part of me didn't expect him to like it because he is such a tough customer. But, he spend the entire weekend with his nose in the iPad. Reading my book. Let me just say that again.

My husband spent the weekend reading my book.

I'm seriously getting choked up thinking about it and not just because he liked it.  I was always a little afraid I would never be able to share this big part of my life with him. Now, I have a new reader and critic who will give me a different perspective. Poor guy. He doesn't realize what he's in for.

Last night, I was playing that effing Candy Crush game when he said, out of the blue, "The End," and gave me the best review I'll ever receive.

Other Items You Might Be Interested In:

Stillwater, Texas Website

Read the first five pages of STILLWATER.

Read a deleted scene from STILLWATER.

Learn about the characters.

"Big secrets run deep." - STILLWATER website up and running!

Today I'm excited to announce the project I've been working on for the past couple of weeks is ready for public consumption!

I have created a website to promote my unpublished novel, STILLWATER.

Check it out, let me know what you think. Subscribe to receive news as I go through the publishing process. Comment to show potential publishers people are interested in the novel. Forward the link to your friends, family and social media followers.

Don't worry. I'm not going to spam you every day with posts about this website. Now that summer is officially over (I should probably go change out of these white capris) I will be posting semi-regularly here on the Swamp again about books, movies and fitness. Notice I've switched ice cream out with fitness. Self-explanatory, don'tcha think?

Working on the website was more fun than I expected. I tried to look at the novel from a place of ignorance: if I knew nothing at all about STILLWATER, what information would intrigue me and make me want to read this book? It was an interesting exercise with an unexpected consequence; my creative batteries are recharged. It also made me realize how much I miss my characters. I'm ready to get back to the sequel.

Which means enough with this post. Check out my website. I hope you like it as much as I liked creating it. And, don't forget:

Big secrets run deep.

Sundays with Hitch on TCM

Shadow of a Doubt (1943) I spent most of the 2007-2008 school year watching Turner Classic Movies. Both of my children were out of the house and in school for seven hours a day and I couldn't think of a better way to decompress after parenting an undiagnosed ADHD toddler for five years. My obsession was probably a little unhealthy. A few weeks ago, my husband asked me why I don't watch old movies anymore. "Because I watched every one I wanted to see."

That isn't an exaggeration. I will occasionally check out TCM's schedule to see if there is anything I missed or an old favorite I want to re-watch. Occasionally, I'll find one of the latter, but the former? I haven't found one yet.

During that time, I tried to watch all of Hitchcock's movies. Easier said than done. They weren't all available on DVD and TCM played the same ones over and over, probably due to rights issues. When I did find a DVD of Hitchcock's British movies, the quality was terrible. The sound was horrible, making it difficult to understand what anyone was saying. His early works are also very static, resembling filmed stage plays more than what we think of as movies. But, that was not unique to Hitch. Most films from the last 20s early 30s suffer from this restraint.

So, though I tried to get through those early movies, I found myself falling asleep more often than not, getting bored or irritated by not being able to hear. There are probably about eight to ten movies I need to see to complete the set. Luckily, TCM is having a Hitchcock festival every Sunday in September.

As far as I can tell, TCM has managed to get the rights to just about every movie. The two exceptions I can see are Under Capricorn, a historical drama staring Ingrid Bergman I haven't seen and The Paradine Case, which I have and I'm pretty sure I hated it.

This Sunday's schedule is excellent. Starting at 10 am (Eastern) Murder (1932), Rope (1948), Spellbound (1946), Marnie (1964), The Birds (1963), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), Psycho (1960), The Lodger (1926), Blackmail (1929), and Frenzy (1972). I don't have the time or patience to watch them all (but if you do, I recommend it!), but will save a couple to my DVR to watch next week.

What I'm Watching - Murder and Blackmail. When I originally tried to watch them, the sound for Murder was horrible and I think I fell asleep during Blackmail.

Movie I Wouldn't Bother to Re-Watch - Spellbound. Despite Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman, I just didn't care for this one. But, I plan to read the book it was based on so I might re-visit it after that.

If You Can Only Watch One - If you've seen Psycho and The Birds, then you should definitely watch Shadow of a Doubt. Excellent psychological serial killer drama.